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What's New Under the Sun? Sun's Love Affair With Linux

A Little Bit of History

May 17, 2002

Over the past few months, a consistently depressed stock price and a flurry of recent management changes at Sun MicroSystems have raised a huge black question mark over Sun Microsystems, especially regarding Sun's relationship with Linux. Prior to Sun's surprise purchase of Cobalt, the leading vendor of Linux-based NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices in the summer of 2000, Sun had always been visibly hostile to Linux - small wonder, since on the surface, Linux is more of an issue for Sun than for any of the other remaining workstation vendors.

Sun didn't get to be number one in the workstation market by playing dead when confronted by a challenge. Sun's Linux strategy is still evolving, but what is emerging is a diverse set of investments in Linux technologies, well-integrated support for Linux binaries and source code on Solaris, (Sun's flagship Unix variant), and a strong commitment to Linux as part of Sun's enterprise computing environment of the future.

For anyone who's been living in a cave for the last twenty years, Sun MicroSystems is the most successful of the original Unix workstation vendors. Ed Zander, the former COO of Sun who is the most well-known of Sun's recent management departures, came to Sun from Apollo, a technically sophisticated but marketing blind workstation vendor that was purchased and then guillotined by Hewlett-Packard in the late 1980s.

While other successful workstation vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have always made a substantial part of their revenue from other product lines, such as mainframes, printers, and test equipment, Sun has always focused on the pure Unix workstation and server market. Sun's domination of the workstation market was facilitated by good hardware, their adoption of pure BSD (Berkeley Standard Distribution) Unix from the beginning, and a strong commitment to the college market. Sun's aggressive pricing, powerful systems, and educational discounts successfully seeded the buying habits of a few generations of computer scientists by putting a Sun Workstation on almost every desk in academia in the 1980s and 1990s.

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